Friday, February 29, 2008

Paragraph lengths, BASIC CRAFT

QUESTION: I have trouble trying to figure out when to begin and end paragraphs and when to have dialogue included in the paragraph and when to have it stand on its own as an independent paragraph.

Unlike nonfiction, there are no hard and fast rules for paragraphing in fiction. Much of this is the writer's choice which is informed by experience as well as their need to emphasize certain things or break between actions.

And, surprisingly, some choices are as much visual as mental. Most readers, these days, don't like long paragraphs so many writers paragraph more frequently than did past writers.

Here are some good rules of thumb, though.

When you start with narrative followed by dialogue, the narrative should be about the person who will speak.

Adam studied the book's page then glanced back up at his friend. "Pete, we have a problem here."

If the narrative was about Pete, Adam's line would be in a new paragraph.

Pete watched his friend anxiously as he read the rule book.

"We have a problem here," Adam said.

If you have a long bit of narrative, it's usually a good stylistic choice to paragraph before the character's lines. This breaks up the lines visually, and it also emphasizes the dialogue.

When you are writing a long speech by a character, you paragraph to emphasize subject, changes in subject, and the rhythm of the scene.

If you aren't sure about any of the above, read the dialogue aloud as the character would speak it. Notice when you have natural pauses. That's a good place for a paragraph break.

Dialogue shouldn't be too long, though. Break it up with a bit of narrative like

Adam shook his head in disgust and continued,

Or have other characters react or comment.

"I can't believe Pete said that. It doesn't sound like him."

For straight narrative with no dialogue, you should paragraph when the action shifts to another character.

Pete tripped but caught himself before falling flat on his face.

Behind him, the sound of Adam's running feet moved toward him, then his friend stopped at his side.

On the whole issue of paragraphing, don't be too uptight about it.

As long as the reader is clear about what is happening and the page isn't covered by long paragraphs, he won't even notice when you paragraph.

REMINDER: You have just a few days left to sign up for my class on writing that all important first chapter. To learn more, go to

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Names versus Pronouns

QUESTION: When should I use the character's name and when should I use the personal pronouns "he" or "she?"

Name repetition reminds the reader that he is reading about a character, and it jerks him right out of that viewpoint character's head. For this reason, you should use the character's name once at the beginning of the scene, then you don't use it again except for clarity.

Moments when it's needed for clarity include scenes with more than one person of the same gender. In this example, two men are fighting. I use the hero's name then I use "he" or "him" or "his" until I name the other character (the drunk, opponent, the man)


In crowd scenes, I've always found that it's better to be a bit boring using the character's name, which the reader will skim, than to confuse the reader as to who is doing what action. This stops the reading process completely which is the one thing a writer should avoid at all costs.

As in real life, you shouldn't overuse characters' names to address each other in dialogue, either.

Names are most often used at the beginning of a conversation as people greet each other. "Hello, Mary, how are you?"

Or they're used to impart important or emotional information. "He's dead, Jim."

Or to direct conversation at one person in a group of people. "What's your opinion about this, Fred?"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Finding the right images, DESCRIPTION

On one writer listservs I belong on, a member who had always lived in warmer areas wanted to know about the different sounds snow on the ground make as you move through it and how various animals react to snow for some scenes in his novel.

He was smart to ask because the right visual details make a scene live, the wrong details ruin a scene.

Always ask if you don't have the experience to breath life into a certain kind of scene.

I've included my answer to the writer below. I'm an animal person so I described how various animals in my life have dealt with snow.

Cats are fun to watch in snow. In the morning after a snow, my cat will go outside very tentatively. Cats think of snow as water so you can imagine their distaste in treading through the soft new snow. If the snow is over his paws, he will bound through the snow even when he could walk through it easily. Snow collects on his stomach hair in little balls. He normally does his business then comes right in.

After the snow has frozen on top, usually overnight, he will walk on the top crust in virgin snow, or bound in tracks made by me the day before. Normally, he'll hunt then, but if the crust starts breaking under his weight, and that nasty snow is on him, he heads back in for a snack and a snooze.

A dog will tread through soft snow that is below the halfway point in his legs, but will bound like a bunny in anything higher. Snow sticks on the legs and in the pads and that is uncomfortable if their human doesn't clean them off occasionally. Water dogs such as retrievers adore snow, and catching and eating soft snowballs is enormously entertaining.

Horses tend to stride through snow unless it is high drifts, then they plunge and bound. They aren't naturally rhythmic like dogs and cats. They look more like they are going flat foot over hurdles than jumping forward like a cat or dog.

I don't know if it's a major problems with unshod horses, but shod horses have a terrible time with snow build up in their hooves. Wet snow cakes in their hooves, and it builds up so they end up walking on snow stilts. This is extremely dangerous for the horse. I remember cleaning out up to six inches in my horse's hooves.

I've read that horsemen in England would press butter into the hollow area in the bottom of the hoof to keep snow from building up during hunts and steeplechases, but I never attempted that with my horse.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Across a Crowded Room, DESCRIPTION

QUESTION: I have a scene in a restaurant where staff is coming and going. How do I describe that? Do I mention all the movement?

This is really about viewpoint. You are describing the scene from your viewpoint character's perspective. What will she see?

Imagine this. You are in your favorite romantic restaurant. Across from you is your special someone or your favorite sexy actor. You are eating your meal, flirting, and talking. Would you be aware of who is coming in and out of the room?

Your character in a similar situation would do the same thing.

Imagine this. You are in that restaurant with that sexy lover, but someone wants to kill you.

You would be very aware of who is coming and going in the room, and so would your viewpoint character.

If it's a situation that's emotionally neutral like a banquet meal with servants coming and going to bring food, you can say something like "A steady stream of servants, each with a large tray of food or an empty bowl, moved through the room tending the tables."

Then, unless there's a reason to mention the servants again, or a servant again, you don't mention them. The reader will fill in the visual blanks.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Too Much Information

You want to start a novel at an exciting moment that involves the main character which will draw the reader into the story to see what will happen next, but you can't give too much information, too soon.

Instead, you give the reader just enough information to understand what's going on.

For example, the main character faces an angry goblin in a dark alley of some major big city.

She can hear cars and a police siren which, unfortunately, is moving away from where she is. Mentally or aloud, she cusses her luck for choosing a job like this.

The goblin knocks her gun out of her hand, and it lands in the sewer drain so she lifts her hands, whispers a spell, and flames shoot of her hands, but the goblin doesn't go down. The injury makes him even angrier.

We now know she's a magic user of some sort, the world is ours or isn't ours by little details, that magical creatures can enter here, and it's her job to stop them, and she is in seriously deep poo because she is now defenseless against a furious goblin.

Later, you'll tell the reader about her role as a Guardian of normal Earth and, later still, about her home on a parallel magic world, but you'll do it in bits and pieces like clues to a puzzle the reader is trying to understand.

Having these clues of the world and trying to understand it is as important a puzzle for the reader as the plot, and it's as enjoyable. Don't cheat the reader by giving away too much.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Far Away Places

QUESTION: I want to set my novel in India, but I've never been there. My main character comes into India from America. Can I pull this off?

I'm a born and bred Southern, and I can almost always tell when a non-Southerner is writing about the South. Words and expressions are used wrong, facts are wrong, the texture of the landscape and weather is wrong, etc., etc. That's one reason I rarely stray from the South as a location for my books since I'm probably as culturally clueless about other parts of the US as these people are about the South.

You will have the advantage, though, of having a stranger come into India so mistakes made in her viewpoint will be hers, not yours, in the reader's eyes.

The culture and landscape will be so vastly different that anyone from outside would be overwhelmed by its alien quality and miss much of the nuances. Essentially, that means that she will view India as an impressionistic painting, not as a photographic image, so that certain things will connect with her senses and others will be missed.

My major suggestions are to read recent travelogues about that area as well as watch TV show travelogues. Memoirs from Americans or Europeans living in India should also prove to be a valuable resource about the clash of cultures.

The Internet is a wondrous resource, and it's very easy to connect with people from all over the world. When you have your work in a readable form, try to find people who know that area to read those parts of the books. That should help, too.

HAVE A WRITING QUESTION?: Feel free to ask me via this blog or by email. My address is marilynn byerly @ aol. com (Remove the spaces)

REMINDER; I'm teaching an online class in March on writing the first chapter. To learn more, go here

Thursday, February 21, 2008

When Should I get my Website Online?

There is no hard and fast rule about when to have your own site up and running, but it will be one of your most expensive ongoing costs of being an author so keep that in mind as you decide.

Some recommend that you have a website even before you begin the submission process for your first novel. Supposedly, those editors and agents will be checking you out when they look at your submission.

This is probably a good recommendation if you are trying to sell nonfiction, and you are an expert on the subject, but I've never heard of an agent or an editor looking up an unpublished author on the web.

Others suggest you set up your website as soon as possible after signing the contract. This will allow you plenty of time to concentrate on the site before you become too busy with other aspects of prepublication.

The last suggestion, and the most common one, is to have the site up just before the book shows up in the bookstores.

My own feelings are that you should have the site up at least four to six months before the publication of your book.

During this period, the publisher will start marketing your book to various distributors, early advance review copies will be sent out for quotes, and a certain amount of buzz will be starting about your book.

If your website is up, you can take advantage of this early period, and you can also improve your book's chances that it will be picked up by major distributors because they will often look at a site to see what kind of promotion the author will offer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Writing Descriptions

Sometimes, it's hard to decide what to include in our descriptions of a scene.

The trick to deciding is to remember that you're in a character's viewpoint. Ask yourself what is important to that character.

A cop entering a room where a gunman may be hidden is seeing different things than an interior designer who enters a room a rival has just decorated. The cop doesn't give a damn about the charming shade of blue in the wallpaper, but he'll notice the large pieces of furniture someone could be behind, the amount of light and shade in the room that makes seeing movement tricky, and the possible exits.

At the same time, the character will be aware of the sounds and smells in the room-- the faint smell of gun oil, the Chanel No. 5 of the wealthy woman who owns the home, the tap of the nails as a toy poodle moves across the oak floor, and the slight rustle of something moving behind a curtain.

With just the right specific touches, the room will come alive for the reader and at the same time you're building tension and giving character details, and you're not stopping the action.

REMINDER: Marilynn will be teaching an online class on writing to first chapter in March. To learn more go to

Tuesday, February 19, 2008



Do you have what it takes to be a fiction writer? Here's a true or false test to find out. Be brutally honest. The only person you will be cheating is yourself. Choose TRUE if the statement describes you or what you believe, FALSE if it does not.

1. I don't need to know grammar and spelling. That's the job of the editor. My job is to tell the story.

2. Most authors make lots of money. That's why I want to write.

3. I want things NOW. I'm just not a patient person.

4. Friends or family want to watch a movie you really want to see, but you haven't written your quota for the day. You stay at the computer and write.

5. If I don't write every day, I get grumpy or edgy.

6. There's one secret to writing a publishable story, and when I learn what it is, I'll succeed.

7. Criticism really hurts me. If someone criticizes my work, I feel like a failure.

8. If someone criticizes my work, I will change it immediately.

9. I love to read a certain kind of story, and that's what I want to write.

10. It's easy to write and sell a novel. All I will have to do is sit down and write it, then I will sell it.

BONUS POINTS QUESTION: I dream of stories to tell, or characters demand their stories be told, or I envision whole scenes, and I want to find out what happens next.


1. FALSE Editors are busy people, and they don't have the time to correct simple mistakes. Simple mistakes usually indicate a poor writer, as well, and usually brings a fast rejection. WORTH 10 POINTS

2. FALSE Most authors are very poorly paid, expenses are high, and the time required is intense. The average writer can't support herself or her family on several books a year from a major publisher with good distribution. WORTH 10 POINTS

3. FALSE Publishing is an excruciatingly slow process. First you write the book, then you wait for months as you send out queries, more months for them to look at a portion of the manuscript, more months to look at the complete manuscript. And if they want to publish it, it will take a year or more to see print. WORTH 10 POINTS

4. TRUE You have to create writing time and that means you have to give up other things. You have to want to write, or you'll never succeed. WORTH 10 POINTS

5. TRUE Writing is an adrenaline addiction. WORTH 10 POINTS

6. FALSE There is no one secret to creating a publishable novel. There are, however, a few things you need to do. The first is sticking your rear in a chair in front of the computer with some consistency and writing. WORTH 10 POINTS

7. FALSE A tough skin must be standard equipment if you want to be a novelist. Every step along the way will be filled with criticism and rejection. The trick is to realize that they are talking about your work, NOT you. WORTH 10 POINTS

8. FALSE Writing isn't a project by committee. You know your work best so you must decide if a suggestion has value or not. The trick is determining what changes are part of learning craft and what changes force your voice or story in the wrong direction. WORTH 10 POINTS

9. TRUE You have to enjoy and read the types of stories you write. This gives you a good basis for knowing what works and what readers want.

Nothing is more obvious to a reader or an editor than a writer who doesn't read in her field. This is especially true in romance. A reader can spot someone who is writing for the money really fast. WORTH 10 POINTS

10. FALSE Writing is a craft that must be learned. You are as likely to have the natural skills to be a publishable writer as an amateur basketball player would have the skill to play professional NBA basketball.

The first novel rarely sells. Most published writers write several before they sell. Some can write up to a dozen novels before selling. WORTH 10 POINTS

Bonus Points Question: TRUE If this doesn't happen to you, you really aren't meant to be a fiction writer. All the other things above can be learned, but this can't. WORTH 100 POINTS

0 to 99 A writing career isn't for you.
100-145 If you're willing to change and work hard, you can become a professional writer
145-190 Congratulations. You are completely insane and the perfect candidate for being a professional writer.

NOTE: Please pass along the link to this quiz rather than copying and pasting it into emails.

OBLIGATORY PROMO: To learn about Marilynn Byerly and her novels, go to

TO RECEIVE THIS BLOG IN YOUR EMAIL, send a blank email to

Monday, February 18, 2008

Two Types of Romance

By current market standards, there are two different definitions of the romance. One is defined by mass-market paperback houses like Harlequin and Leisure, and this definition is what most romance readers' expect when they read a book called a romance. For the sake of clarity, I will call this a "standard romance."

Here are some of those readers' expectations: The standard romance should include a happily ever after ending (HEA). At the end of the book, the one man and one woman relationship ends with the promise of monogamy if not marriage. The hero and heroine should be deserving of those titles by their actions and behavior.

The emotional plot turning point, the crucible in which their relationship is tested, is the center of the story. The reader sees that if this one problem is solved before the HEA there will indeed be a happily ever after. Problems can be things like trust or commitment issues, self-worth issues, etc. Before the hero and heroine can have a HEA, they have to face this problem, grow, and change for the better to earn that happily ever after.

These elements must be at the core of the novel to be a romance.

The second definition of romance is the mainstream romance. Another good name for these romances would be tearjerker romances. Most of these books are written by men. Think BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and all books by Nicholas Sparks.

The unhappy ending is as expected here as the HEA is expected in the other kind of romance. One of the lovers dies, or the lovers are torn apart for other reasons.

The plot rarely follows linear time, and the ending is known before the beginning usually in a frame story which often involves the children of the people in the romance discovering the truth about that past. The frame story begins and ends the novel.

For some odd reason, the mainstream romance has considerably more respectability than the standard romance.

REMINDER: Marilynn will be teaching a course on writing the first chapter next month. To learn more, go here

Friday, February 15, 2008

An online contest by a great agent, MARKET

Jessica Faust of Bookends, LLC, a highly respected literary agency that specializes in genre fiction, is having a contest at her blog. She will read the first 100 words of your novel.

The title of the blog entry is "Our Valentine to You," for Thursday, February 14th. Here's the link

The mystery contest is already over because the entry time is less than 24 hours, but they will also have contests for

Paranormal Romance/Romance With Fantasy Elements
Erotic Romance
Women’s Fiction
Romantic Suspense
Contemporary Romance
Historical Romance

Bookmark this blog and check it daily if you are interested. The contest rules are in the blog entry, and the prize, beyond being read by a very successful agent, is a chance for a critique of the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Booksigning Advice from Mark Twain

When Mark Twain started giving lectures, the book tour of his day, he was extremely nervous about whether the crowds would be friendly or if they'd laugh at his jokes so he paid a few people to sit in the audience to laugh and clap at the appropriate times. Being a humorist of such caliber, he didn't need these guys, of course, but they gave him confidence.

What does this have to do with a booksigning? Simple. Talk to friends and relatives, and ask that they come at a specific time. (Spread them out through the signing.) That way you'll always have people around to attract other people, and you'll look busy to the bookstore owner. You'll also get out folks who wouldn't come otherwise.

If things are going badly, despite all you've done, (it does happen even to the best of us), make certain some of these friends buy your book even if you have to reimburse them later. That's so you look good to the bookseller, too. And for Pete's sake, don't let the bookstore know these people are planted! You may want to come back again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reality versus fiction

"The way things happen in romance novels don't truly reflect the way things happen in our subjectively real universe. " -- Comment from reader

The truth of the matter is nothing reflects the "real world" of experience. Not fiction, not nonfiction, not bland news reports, not even media like film and TV. Reality is simply too complex.

A writer uses her own vision of the universe to create her fiction. That vision is ordered so that the complex chaos of reality makes sense and has a pattern.

If readers find her vision of reality to be truthful for them, (they buy into her vision and understand it), the writer has been successful. Part of that "buying in" is seeing the complexity of human personality and the male/female romantic relationship reflected in that writing.

Since so many women read romance, romance must reflect emotional, if not physical, reality for women.

In the same sense, most of us don't believe in vampires, but that doesn't prevent us from enjoying a good vampire romance. Those of us who analyze our responses to books see that the vampire romance reflects certain emotional needs and power issues for us so it is emotionally real although not "reality" real.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do You Want to Use a Pen Name?

One of the dreams most writers share is seeing a book with their name on the cover, but more and more writers are choosing a pseudonym (pen name).


Years ago, finding someone by just knowing their name would have required lots of effort or the use of a private detective.

These days, most of us can use the Internet which can give us the person's address and even print out a map to their house in just a few minutes. We can find out if they are married, their kids' names, and about anything else we want to know.

Years ago, authors didn't worry about the dangers involved with using their real name, but today, professional writers talk about stalker fans, scary letters from prison inmates, and identity theft they and their friends have experienced.

I have never had any problems, but, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't use my real name.

Other reasons to use a pen name aren't so scary.

Some publishers like Harlequin/Silhouette prefer pen names.

If your books' sales stink, your publisher or your agent may insist you change your name so that you have a clean slate with book distributors and bookstores who look at your last book's sales numbers before they buy or don't buy your book.

If your next book has a different audience than usual, a new pen name will allow you to attract the right readers and not disappoint your regular readers. For example, if your books are sweet romances, and you decide to write erotica, you don't want to disappoint your fans or lose readers of erotica who think Jane Smith only writes romance with no blatant sex.

Some authors are so prolific that they write under two or more names because publishers don't want to publish more than X number of titles per author a year.

How can you keep your real name secret?

Just choosing a pen name isn't enough. Your real name will appear on the copyright information page.

To avoid this, you'll need to incorporate your pen name so that name will appear on the copyright notice instead of your real name.

You also need to tell friends and colleagues that you wish to keep your real identity secret. More than one author has been "outed" by careless friends.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fantasy and Reality

In my dream, I walked into the snack bar of the student union of my alma mater. Daniel, the hero of my first novel, sat at one of the tables. He melted me with a sexy megawatt smile and purred, "Hello, Penn."

The awake part of me cringed--Penn was the heroine's name--and muttered, "You're going over the edge, Byerly. Writing IS a form of schizophrenia."

"Uh..., hello, Daniel." I sat down beside him and decided, to heck with mental illness, I was going to enjoy myself.

Even after many years, that dream remains vivid. It was my first encounter with the gray shadings between fantasy and reality in a writer's life. I know the difference between the two, every writer must. I've also learned their interplay enriches my characters and my life.

Parts of me litter my novels like confetti at a party--Tony Chaucer wore the ratty man's bathrobe I refused to stop wearing, Ariel at five snuggled with my teddy bear, and David had my vermouth dry sense of humor. Those parts help my characters live.

But each character is more than just chucks of me. They have thoughts and wisdom I've never had.

I've borrowed Daniel's genius for quick puns and dear Nelson's serene wisdom and faith when my own was sadly lacking. In this manner, my characters have given back as much as I've given them. Almost like real friends.

Are you wondering what happened in that dream about sexy Daniel? We sat and discussed his own college days. You see, fantasy like reality doesn't always have the expected ending.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Literary Roots of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

The paranormal romance's roots come from the Gothic romance and science fiction/fantasy.


Most scholars consider Smollett's FERDINAND COUNT FATHOM (1753) to be a precursor, and the first true Gothic was Horace Walpole's CASTLE OF OTRANTO (1764).

The true element of romance, at least our definition of it, didn't appear until a woman started writing Gothics. Her name was Ann Radcliff, and her first book was called THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO (1789). She set the stage for the Bronte sisters and their books years later.

The Gothic began to lose its respectability during the time of the Brontes because the authors were predominately women. The flowering of the pulp Gothics in the early to mid-Twentieth century finished what little respectability the form still had. These pulps are the ones you may remember with covers with the heroine in a wispy nightgown fleeing from a distant castle.

Ghosts and other supernatural creatures in these books were dangers or spooky atmosphere.

The supernatural creature as a romantic partner first appeared in a category (Harlequin/Silhouete) romance -- THE IVORY KEY by Rita Clay Estrada, (1987). The hero was a ghost. The book was wildly popular and a few paranormals with a supernatural hero/heroine crept into the Harlequin lines after that as well as the single titles of other publishers, but they quickly disappeared because the numbers weren't high enough to please the publishers, and the more traditional readers complained loudly about these books.

The paranormal in romance had a small but loyal following, and about every seven years, the NY market would produce PNR in a large way, but these surges were very short-lived, and the market would vanish again.


If you consider fantasy as part of science fiction or vice versa, I'd say that Andre Norton was the first sf/fantasy author to include romance. She never used the word "love," and there was almost no mush, but it was about a man and woman who face danger together and work as a team, physically and emotionally, and there was always a sense of a permanent relationship at the end of the book. Anne McCaffrey followed her with even more emphasis on romantic relationships and the partnership between men and women.

The first futuristic from a NY romance publisher was Janelle Taylor's MOONDUST AND MADNESS (1992). It had a "Mars Needs Women" plot, and the sf elements were horrifyingly wrong. Taylor and most futuristic authors of the period derive more from media sf than literary sf.

An exception to this was Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick) and a few other writers who actually understood literary sf.

Unfortunately, the futuristic/sf romance failed to survive. Until recently, the sf romance has made an appearance every seven years or so, lasted about a year in popularity then faded out of sight.

In recent years, the sf romance with sf literary roots has begun to find some respectability because of authors like Catherine Asaro who writes for the sf market.

From the romance side, Susan Grant's shift from having the sf romance about space to having the sf elements on contemporary Earth has gained fans for the genre as well as giving it new life.

The fantasy romance followed a similar path. One of its early and most popular practitioners in the eighties was Rebecca Brandewyne who used the traditional elements of fantasy and fairy tale. Fantasy romance had as little luck as the sf romance in gaining fans.

Then Anne Rice started writing vampire novels, and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER hit TV. The contemporary fantasy romance and urban fantasy was born soon after and has become so popular that we are now in the Golden Age of paranormal romance.

SCHEDULE NOTE: I've decided to write this blog Monday through Friday so I'll be back again on Monday.

To receive this blog by mail, please join my Yahoogroups by sending a blank email to .

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How Do I Create Suspense?

The simplest answer to this question is that a suspense scene involves danger to the main characters. That's a "will the hero survive?" physical danger. Or "Will the main character escape emotional turmoil and unhappiness?" emotional danger.

Suspense is more complex than that, though, in novel-length.

First the writer must keep offering questions to the reader who keeps reading to find out the answers, and as the reader finds the answers, the author offers more questions to keep the reader reading.

A question can be a simple "what happens next?" or "why is this character doing this?" All the questions and their answers are the clues that the reader get to understand the novel and the characters.

Think of these questions and answers as bread crumbs leading the reader bird through each scene and through the novel. Part of the suspense in each scene comes in finding out the answer to some of the questions the author poses.

Suspense won't work if the reader doesn't care about the person in danger so part of the suspense is making the reader care about that character. In my romantic suspense, GUARDIAN ANGEL, if my hero had been a jerk instead of a charming, decent man, most readers wouldn't care if he survived to the end of the novel, and they certainly wouldn't think him worthy of Desta, the brave and kind heroine.

The character must also have a worthwhile goal so that the reader wants the character to succeed.

If the main character wants to find the treasure so he can live a lavish lifestyle, the reader may root for him if the search for the treasure is interesting enough, but if he wants the treasure to ransom his beloved wife and children before they face torture and death, the reader will be as anxious as the character is that he succeed. Each suspenseful scene will be a hurdle or threat to his reaching his final goal, and failure is unthinkable.

A successful suspense scene must also draw the reader in by using the senses. The words must be vivid, the reader should experience what the character is experiencing, and we must be in the head of the character who has the most to lose in the scene.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Perspective on Reviews

Anyone who has had a bad review knows how traumatic is it, but reviewers don’t know everything. Here are what some reviewers have said in the past.

"Sentimental rubbish... Show me one page that contains an idea"-- "Odessa Courier" on ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy, 1877.

"Shakespeare's name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down"-- Lord Byron, 1814.

"His fame is gone out like a candle in a snuff and his memory will always stink" -- Wm. Winstanley, 1687 on Milton.

"Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer" -- "La Figaro," 1857.

"This is a book of the season only"-- "NY Herald Tribune" on THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

"We do not believe in the permanence of his reputation... our children will wonder what their ancestors could have meant by putting Dickens at the head of the novelists of today."-- "Saturday Review," 1858.

"Nothing odd will do long. TRISTAM SHANDY did not last" -- Samuel Johnson in 1776 on a novel that is still in print over 200 years later.

"The only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read" --J. Lorimer reviewing WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte, 1847.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pushing the Reader's Buttons

In Jayne Anne Krentz's book DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF ROMANCE, she explores the archetypal myths or fairy tales behind the most successful romances. She believes that “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White” are often the core plot and emotional energizers for our novels.

But there's more to the archetype than just the fairy tale, and this extra element can vitalize a writer's work.

The archetype is also a symbol or image which has a strong emotional resonance for humankind. The archetypal image can raise the hackles (absolute darkness), slow the heartbeat (a babbling brook), or turn the stomach (maggots on a rabbit's carcass). The archetype image can help us push the reader's emotional buttons so we can make them feel what we want them to feel.

Horror writers already know the importance of the fear archetype, and they use it to great effect. Stephen King, for example, can go for the archetypal jugular vein with relentless certainty. It is his greatest strength as a writer. His layering of images provokes an emotional response greater than mere words.

The archetypal image can also be manipulated to express changing emotions. In an unpublished_novel of mine, the hero and innocent heroine end up in bed. Afterwards, the hero sends her a dozen white roses, the symbol of pure love and innocence.

As the days pass and the hero doesn't get back in touch, the heroine watches the roses fade as her hopes fade.__When she finally realizes that the roses that meant “forever” to her mean “thanks for the great sex and good-bye” to him, she smashes the vase.

Her innocence and love have faded completely, her heart as crushed as the roses on the floor.

The danger with archetypal images is their overuse. Horror and paranormal writing is awash with archetypal images that have become cliches-- the baying wolf, the bat, the open grave. You must discover new old images to bring freshness and creativity to your writing.

Go through dream dictionaries since dreams are filled with archetypal images. Study books like A DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS by J. E. Cirlot. Read books on Jung's studies of the archetype and the unconscious to get a broad overview of the emotional significance of these images. Notice the images that good writers use to push your emotional buttons.

And, especially, consider your own dreams. For they are your most fertile creative garden. They are the true home of the archetype.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Romance's Appeal

Some time back, a reporter asked a number of romance writers this question-- "Can you give me the deep reason for the romance novel's appeal to women? I can't ask my mother -- that would be too weird."

Here's my answer--

There is no one deep reason, but I can offer you one of them.

I've never had the time to learn about football. To me, it's just a bunch of big guys chasing each other and a ball on the field. But I'm told that a football fan understands the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game.

In the same way, many women understand the subtle tactics, the skills, and the rules of the game of love. The romance novel offers them a front row seat at the most fascinating and important game of all -- love and marriage.

Many who don't read romance say all these books are the same, but they are no more the same than every football game is the same.

Romances offer a more important payback than football because they are teaching women more about the emotional dynamics of men and women so they can play the game and win for themselves and society by creating a monogamous, stable relationship for themselves and for the successful rearing of children which takes two committed parents.

And, yes, there is usually sex in these novels, but romances aren't about sex. If they were, they'd have more than the ten to twenty pages of love scenes in the average 400 page novel. The love scenes are there because they are another part of the emotional dynamics, and how the man acts afterward usually defines the problems and the possibilities of the relationship.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Spotting a Publishing Scam

This article by a Wisconsin lawyer for other lawyers is a must read for all of us in the publishing industry.

If this long link doesn't work, do a Google of "Ellen M. Kozak" and "scam" and it should come up as the first result.

NOTE: I won't post a blog tomorrow, but I'll be back on Monday. If you have a subject you'd like me to cover, please contact me via my blog or my Yahoogroups

Friday, February 1, 2008

Creating Characters from Within

From a writer's point of view of creating a character, I believe that we need to look inward. All the emotions that will drive the average, sane person to do something unexpected are all there inside us. Given the right impetus, a person will do the unexpected.

I don't believe a good person with a strong moral center will deliberately do something evil like cold-blooded murder, for example, but a good person will kill in the right circumstances.

From my own experience, I know I'd kill in the right situation. I was sixteen, my dad was camping with the Scouts, and someone woke me by trying to come through my bedroom window in the middle of the night. I had a loaded pistol, and I'm an excellent shot.

I knew I could shoot through the window, or I could get the gun and run to the phone on the other end of our big house. Either way, I'd be safe. But my mom and my kid sister were asleep in other bedrooms, and I'd be leaving them to the burglar's mercy if I ran.

In that moment of decision, and with cold, certain clarity, I realized I was perfectly capable of shooting the burglar to protect my family. I also realized that he'd have to come through the window before I shot so I would know he was down, or he could come through another window anywhere in the house.

I knew if I told him to stop, he'd keep coming because I'm female and so small he'd probably think I was nine or ten, and I'd have less of a chance of killing a moving target with a small caliber gun. I knelt behind the bed with the gun in my hand and waited for him to come through the window. I planned to put three shots in his heart and save three shots for just in case.

Fortunately, the dogs scared him away before he made it through the window, but I'll never forget that moment of cold certainty, and I know that I would do the same now.

As a writer, I've used that moment to help define my good characters who are driven to the edge with hard choices.

The trick as a writer is to make the reader believe that a character will do something outside of their experience. If I were writing that personal experience as part of a novel, I'd have already shown the reader that this character loves their family, and that they have a gun and the experience to use it.

When that moment of decision comes, the reader wouldn't be completely surprised that the character chooses to stay rather than fleeing like a self-centered bunny.

If a writer doesn't make you believe a character will react in a certain way, she has screwed up badly.